Not only consumers in Lithuania are amazed by the prices of Lithuanian food products – a Lithuanian entrepreneur Angelė Kavak engaged in exporting goods into the US also finds them surprisingly high, reports Rasa Lukaitytė-Vnarauskienė o fwww.delfi.lt.

The founder of Food Depot Internationalis sometimes startled by the prices offered by Lithuanian food producers and jokingly tells them that she is not intending to buy a factory; she is only interested in their products.

At the beginning of January, in theGlobal Lithuanian Awards 2013 the President Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded A. Kavak for export promotion, organisation of international conferences, export of the Lithuanian products to the US and advertising, as well as for the establishment of the Lithuanian Business Council.

DELFI: When taking your award, you said that Lithuanians should start changing their mindsets. What exactly did you have in mind?

Angelė Kavak: Lithuanians are afraid of trying. Probably their free spirit was suppressed by years of bondage and occupation, when a “lord” gave orders on what one should do. Lithuanians must be more determined and they will succeed. Sometimes, when I enter a store, I am astonished by the abundance of Lithuanian products as well as by their quality. I am talking about furniture, textile, jewellery, ceramics, which all demonstrate good taste and originality.

I would like to encourage Lithuanians to not be afraid of exporting more goods to the US and in wider ranges.

DELFI: How did your business in the US start?

Angelė Kavak: My first job in America was an administrator’s position in the Lithuanians’ World Centre in Lemont, later I worked as an advertisement designer for an American newspaper publisher, then in an insurance company, and finally I got a job at an international transport agency, where I went all the way from customer service to managing the department. Later decided that I’d preferred being the head of a rabbit to the tale of a moose and started my own business.

Some 15 years ago, newspapers were laden with statements that in the US stores you could buy Polish, Czech, and Chinese products as well as products of other origins, but you couldn’t buy a Lithuanian product. Why? Deliberations on the reasons for this included import prohibitions and restrictions.

Thus I started examining the documents of the Food and Drug Administration and got acquainted with the requirements of food imports and restrictions thereon, and I’ve found out that the same requirements applied to Lithuanians as to other countries. So, we decided to put our hands to it.

We started with the import of Kėdainių konservų fabrikas production, which we offered to store managers. Often, they knew nothing about Lithuania and imagined we formed part of Russia. However, we gradually gained momentum and now, if we offer products from other countries, store representatives ask for the Lithuanian ones.

DELFI: Today you supply around 2000 products of Lithuanian origin to the US stores. What else could appeal to the US customers?

Angelė Kavak: We co-operate with 47 Lithuanian companies and supply their goods both to large and small independent retail chains and ethnic stores of the US. However, we wouldn’t like Lithuanians to focus on food products exclusively as there are other industries as well.

The Americans say that if one wants to get, first one has to spend. Hence, it is necessary to allocate funds for marketing and for brand introduction to the market.

I have spoken to producers who told me such a story: they transport the furniture manufactured by them to France, then they label it as French and export to the US.

Why don’t they label it as a Product of Lithuania? Why don’t they introduce or promote their brand? After all, previously, Lithuanian cheese was transported to Holland, grated, labelled as Product of Holland and only then exported to the US for pizza production.

For example, in a quite expensive specialised garment store Flex I’ve come up with products labelled as Made in Lithuania. Who is the producer of these clothes? Why is one afraid of brand promotion?

For many years the Poles have been exporting amber products to the US. I wouldn’t even say that their amber is better than Lithuanian, I actually find Lithuanian works more interesting. Once at a Nordstrom store, jewellery section, I received quite a lot attention from sellers. They were curious about where did I get my amber pendant from, which I had bought from the jeweller from Klaipėda Stasys Dautaras. Unfortunately, the American chains offer few Lithuanian amber articles.

DELFI: Which of the Lithuanian products that you offer are Americans’ favourite?

Angelė Kavak: I’ve noticed that more and more people buy not only white, but also rye bread. They like salmon but hate herring. By the way, as I’ve said many times, you cannot force them to drink our kvass (gira).

he Americans love our cheese and biscuits. Šakotis arouses a kind of cultural shock in them. Once we took part in the Francy Food Fair. Journalists from Washington said that Šakotis was the most impressive product at the fair. When Americans try it, most of them like it. However, this year we had less than half as needed.

DELFI:What is your impression of the Lithuanian food prices?

Angelė Kavak: When I receive price offers from Lithuanian producers, I jokingly say that I am not intending to buy a factory and that I am only interested in their products. Prices are really high and constantly rising. Sometimes I wonder how Lithuanians can afford food products – their prices are close to those in America, but salaries in the US are higher than in Lithuania.

DELFI: Perhaps you’ve figured out the reasons for high prices?

Angelė Kavak: Let me give an example: a tea producer Herbapol from Poland contacted us many times. Herbapol offers herbal teas for something like 25 dollar cents, meanwhile many of the Lithuanian producers sell them for about 1 dollar.

Many times I’ve asked Lithuanians for an explanation. Lithuanians explain that Polish tea is low-quality and popular only among the poorest consumers. I understand that Lithuanian tea might be of a better quality, but the price difference may not be that big.

Sometimes an inexperienced secretary sends a price list, and a few days later we get a much lower price. Then I ask the reason for such price differences and get the answer that these prices are for Russia, where the quality is much lower and lower quality sugar is used.

However, timely uninformed technicians explain that the products are produced by the same line, thus the same sugar is used. As I understand it, Lithuanian producers, having gotten the request from America, think that Americans can afford to pay more and immediately offer higher prices.

However, in America, we have a far greater competition, especially from Asia, including China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, offering their products for extremely low prices. And after all, all products get on the same shelves. The situation is best illustrated by an example with mushrooms: when we brought the Lithuanian mushrooms, they used to cost much more. And now mushrooms imported by someone from China are much cheaper compared to the Lithuanian ones. How can Lithuanians expect to enter the American market by raising prices?

DELFI: And how do you, as a person working in the trade field, explain this?

Angelė Kavak: Greed has no limits. Lithuania is still on a rocky path of quest. The country has almost no small independent chains or stores left, major chains dominate and dictate their conditions. The US also has large chains, but it also has smaller ones, which are more effective, faster in decision- making, and offer lower prices.

The time will come and the situation in Lithuania will change. Smaller and more flexible chains will finally get their space and force price normalisation favouring the ordinary Lithuanian consumer.

Source: The Lithuania Tribune http://bit.ly/1b11FJ5